Capital Beat: Gateway to Work program stalled by politics

  • The State House dome as seen on March 5, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ

Monitor staff
Saturday, October 01, 2016

State House Republicans have blocked the launch of Gov. Maggie Hassan’s signature welfare-to-work program this year.

But once the Democrat leaves office, Gateway to Work is expected to take on new life.

Top GOP senators and representatives say they will support the job training program if it is included in the state budget or filed as a bill in January.

“I applaud the governor for bringing it forward,” said Senate President Chuck Morse, a Salem Republican. “When we are spending the state’s money, I just think it needs to be debated.”

But by kicking it off to the next session, Republicans deny Hassan a win on economic development, a major issue this election cycle. Hassan is trying to unseat Republican U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte in one of the most competitive elections this cycle.

She chalked up delays to politics. In a statement she said she is “worried that continued delays with this common-sense initiative to fill jobs at growing companies appear to be motivated by politics instead of what is best for New Hampshire’s people and businesses.”

Gateway to Work is the major policy initiative Hassan unveiled in her final state of the state address in February that seeks to give job training to welfare recipients.

The program stalled when her administration brought it before the Republican-led fiscal committee, which put it on hold and doesn’t plan to take action by year end.

Republicans have lauded the program’s goals, but argue it should be debated by the entire state Legislature in a budget bill.

Still, not many are jumping to file the bill themselves.

Morse said he doesn’t plan to sponsor the proposal, but would advocate for it. Fiscal Committee Chairman Neal Kurk said he finds Gateway to Work “intriguing,” but wouldn’t put the bill in.

“Once it is thoroughly vetted and fixed up properly I think it will probably go through and I and many other Republicans will support this,” said Kurk, a Republican representative from Weare.

That leaves the question, who will keep Gateway to Work alive?

The program uses unspent money from from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families fund, which carries a current surplus of more than $20 million. It costs an estimated $8 million to launch workforce training programs aimed at adults making less than 200 percent of the federal poverty limit, or roughly $24,000 a year.

New Hampshire’s unemployment rate is among the lowest in the country, but some low-income residents don’t have the skills to get higher-paying jobs.

It could be included in the next state governor’s budget proposal, typically laid out in February. But it’s not clear whether both candidates approve.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Colin Van Ostern has highlighted Gateway to Work in his economic plan.

“When it comes to the next budget, as Governor, Colin will work to ensure that the appropriate federal dollars are included for Gateway to Work and other job training programs,” said spokesman Matt Trojan

Republican Chris Sununu’s campaign did not return a request for comment.

Bills, bills, bills

The legislative session doesn’t start until January, and we still don’t know who will control the House and Senate.

But the proposals for bills are flowing in and reading the list, you get a sense of deja vu.

There are proposals to decriminalize marijuana and legalize needle exchange programs, both issues that have failed in the last few sessions. There’s a bill proposal to prohibit the implementation of Common Core in public schools, a hotly debated topic in recent years that hasn’t gone anywhere.

While the bills may be the same, there is a major variable in the mix – the state is getting a new governor. And that could give some of these old, tired proposals new traction in the next session.

Take marijuana decriminalization, which hasn’t gotten a lot of support. But both Van Ostern and Sununu have said they are open to the proposal. Hassan has supported Common Core, but Sununu is a vocal opponent and would likely sign a bill prohibiting its use in schools.

The early list of bills isn’t complete. Once the November election concludes, members will have an addition filing period to submit their ideas.

Senate power

You’ve heard of the DSCC and the DCCC – both political arms of the Democratic party aimed at getting party members elected to Congress.

You may not be familiar with the DLCC, a national group that seeks to get Democrats elected at the local level. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee is now playing in New Hampshire, and has designated Peggy Gilmour and Alexis Simpson as as essential races this cycle.

Gilmour, of Nashua, is seeking to take her state Senate seat back from Republican Kevin Avard, who defeated her last cycle. Simpson, a state representative from Exeter, is vying to replace Republican Russell Prescott in Senate District 23. She faces off against Exeter businessman Bob Goodman.

The women are part of an initial list of just 15 candidates from seven states. The DLCC recently invested $60,000 to the Senate Democratic Caucus committee.

Democrats are seeking to take back control of the Senate from Republicans, who hold a narrow majority. Six seats are open this cycle, after a quarter of the Senators resigned, left the chamber or sought other office.

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or amorris@cmonitor.com.)